Willing Heart is the Dojo

Willing Heart is the Dojo

“Dojo” is a Japanese word that literally means, “Practice Place.”  It may also be translated as “Temple,” referring to the physical location of a building where people gather.  However, the above calligraphy is saying something that is counter-intuitive;  The Dojo is not a place, but an orientation towards life.  When I first received the 16 Bodhisattva Precepts my teacher wrote on the back of my rakusu (Buddha Robe) “Right Where You walk is the Dojo.”  The Dojo isn’t a special place you need to walk to, but the place where you are presently walking, or standing, or sitting, or lying down.

This orientation of the “Willing Heart” or “Willing Mind” merits further investigation.  Willingness is the ability to say, “Yes” to the circumstances of our life, to accept them whatever they are in their fullness.  If we are in pain – physical, emotional, spiritual – we accept that.  It’s not that we must like it.  We recognize that not rejecting pain is the Dojo.  If we are in love – with a person, an idea, or life as a whole – we accept our situation, perhaps even allowing ourselves to enjoy or relish in the moment, knowing it may not last forever.

The willing heart/mind is, moreover, the ability to wave the white flag of surrender.  It’s accepting defeat – whether in a simple game played with a friend, or in larger issues such as the loss of a once solid and trusted relationship.

On the physical plane, I experience this surrender not as a posture of rounding the shoulders forward nor of slouching as though defeated, but of sitting upright, back lengthened but relaxed with confidence that the universe is doing exactly what it needs to be doing in this moment, and maybe even experiencing the bottoming out or softening of the muscles in the abdomen so that deeper breathing can take place.  On an emotional level, the willing heart may be associated with letting go of hopes and dreams that are either no longer feasible nor interesting compared to the present moment.

At Zen Fields, practicing together in the same space is quite rare, and I notice a longing in me for a physical temple to go to and sit zazen with others.  “Willing Heart is the Dojo” reminds me that, while continuing to search for that special Temple or perhaps to create it, the Heart that is open to this moment, that says “yes” to the ups and downs of life, is the real Dojo.

The words Zen Fields and a signature stamp next to a spare ink pen outline of a meditator in a field


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